brutto tempo

Scholarly incest

When academics seek to publish papers in peer-reviewed journals, they (usually need to) declare any conflicts of interest they might have. Reviewers are also advised to reveal such conflicts and to recuse themselves if necessary. For editors, the expectations are murkier. One would think that editors will not handle papers written by friends or collaborators, but these things happen. Usually, we never know because once a paper is published, it is not evident who the action editor was. Some journals have changed that. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) prints a byline with the editor’s name. Recently, I saw a paper where the senior author (presumably the corresponding author) was also the editor’s co-author on a textbook. There is no rule against this, but one might say that this is a flirtation with incest. What makes this case ironic is that the very paper that was published in PNAS demonstrates how wealthy, powerful, privileged individuals have lower ethical thresholds than their brethren of modest means. The privileged few are more likely to cut you off in traffic, claim money not their own, and defect in experimental games. In short, money and privilege breed selfishness. How true that is!


It is with some cringing that I observe academics naming effects or ‘laws’ after themselves. Doing so seeks to reify the effect (or law) and thus overclaim its reality, replicability, and irrefutability. At the same time, this labeling tactic tells us nothing about what the effect (or law) is, other than that Professor Arbuckle claims ownership. What if Professor Boswinkle modifies and extends Professor Arbuckle’s effect? She might try to relabel the findings as the Arbuckle-Boswinkle effect, or, better yet, the Boswinkle-Arbuckle effect. In psychology, such attempts are rare, and most of those few are historical, such as the James-Lange theory of emotion (where James is the last name of William). At a time when individuals could make pioneering discoveries there was some justification for the naming tactic. Today, in a time when science has become industrial and collective, the same tactic smacks of hubris. Irony lovers may note that some workers in the area of narcissism and self-inflation have succumbed to the lure of self-labeling. I myself would never do that because I am humbler than the average psychologist. That’s why it is tongue-in-cheek that I now propose Krueger’s law, which states that The probability of having one’s law refuted in its general sense is proportionate to the probability that the law holds true in one’s own particular case.

god etc

God, guns & guts

I understand that there is a book and a TV show with this alliterative title (so says Google). On my morning commute, I saw a poorly driven Ford truck with a 3G bumper sticker. The 3Gs, it said, made this country great. And I used to think it was motherhood and apple pie. As a psychologist, I wonder whether the 3G slogan allows backward priming such that the concepts of guns and guts tint the concept of god. If so, the image of Him would be more old than new testamentarian. Alternatively, if the notion of god’s love and compassion were to dominate, might not the concepts of guns and guts be seen in a benigner light? How are we to think about compassionate guns and guts?

Bad pun

When I drive by The First Baptist Church of America in Providence, I always look at their announcement board. Today’s nugget: “It’s not the heat. It’s the humility.” I arrived at work with a grin and a groan.

crying child

Don’t cry for me Pizzeria

Here’s an ad idea (most likely, it has been done; I did not do an exhaustive search). I went to my local farmers’ market to buy herbs, veggies, and a shot of wheat grass juice. I also stopped at the wood-fired pizza stand because my daughter womans the cashier machine there (en allmand: befraut). Half an hour before closing time, they had sold out. Why? Because their wood-fired pizza is savory and salubrious (a hendiadyoin for ‘awesome’). A mother with a little girl approached and learned that the pizza well had run dry. The girl broke into a heart-rending wail. Rending as it was, it occurred to me that here was an opportunity to use tears to sell. To the lacrimosity the ad would add: “This is what it feels like when you miss out on our wood-fired pizza (shampoo, lawn fertilizer, cruise to Bimini, whatever). What makes this ad clever is that it plays on the time-honored principles of scarcity (“but hurry, sale ends Sunday”) and social proof (“all your neighbors have bought Procter’s Pimple Blotter”) without stating these principles explicitly. Making them explicit is lame. It is better to imply them. – Now that I have made this conclusion explicit, I feel lame.


Don’t text and walk

Can we have a moratorium on texting while walking? People (young ones in particular) are glued to the small screen while walking on a busy sidewalk. Their posture signals that they are not looking up and that they have no intention to. As long as they are in the minority, their risk of collision with another texter-walker is small. But their numbers are rising. This is a game of chicken with a rising proportion of defectors. I see bruises and plastic shards in the future (or worse). Meanwhile, as a non-texting walker, I refuse to make way. My advantage is that I can brace for the collision. To be fair, I announce “Look up, youngster” just before impact. I look at these moments as teachable ones.

Falling off the bandwagon

The header says enough. Mixing metaphors can be a creative act, and so, investigators looking for thoughts outside the box may have to get off the bandwagon, or rather, not get on it in the first place.

Neanthal thinker

The magical mind 2

To say that people have two minds is now de rigeur in psychology. Nobel Laureate Danny Kahneman (2011) weighed in with his acclaimed book Thinking, fast and slow, saying that mind 1 thinks fast (but fallibly), whereas mind 2 thinks more slowly (and, mostly, more rationally). He Kahneman eschews any reification of the two minds. To him, they are metaphors for bundles of mental activity. Mind 1, besides being fast, is open to emotion, stays out of awareness, uses shortcut rules to make judgments, and is able to do more than 1 thing at a time. Heterogeneous as they may be, the processes of mind 1 can be described rather well. Most of them are simple, or heuristic. They exploit few pieces of information, and they do not require a lot of complicated transformations. The processes of mind 2 are harder to describe because they are more complicated. But this is not quite right. Perhaps we should say that the processes of mind 2 are impossible to describe in language other than the folk psychology of introspection. When being of mind 2, we carefully weigh our options; we deliberate and argue with ourselves before making a decision; we try out multiple perspectives or frames of the same problem before judging, and we are aware of all of this as it is going on. But what can we really say about the psychological processes of mind 2 other than that they take longer, that we seem to be aware of the contents of our thoughts, and that (perhaps), their outcomes are more likely to be consistent with the results of logical or statistical analysis? Are we willing to equate psychological process with introspective reports or with the fit between judgments and formulas? The study of mind 1 has the advantage of being able to use stimulus-driven experimentation. Priming is a fine example. You can show people money and observe who they start acting more self-sufficiently and with greater self-interest. The prime is a cue exploited by mind 1 by way of learned association. No deliberation there. If, in contrast, you present a stimulus to activate mind 2, you cannot make a simple prediction about the linkage between the stimulus and the behavioral result. If you could, you would be dealing with mind 1 because you are negating the person’s freedom to deliberate and to come to her own conclusions. Mind 2, in other words, may be code for the agency of free will, and that, by definition, cannot be studied experimentally. And if we cannot study this mind experimentally, what can we find out about its lawful (gasp, deterministic) processes? We are limited to the study of the person’s theory of her own, presumably free, thought processes, and such a theory of limited scientific value.

Karl Duncker

Karl Duncker

Enter Karl Duncker (1945)

. Duncker presented a Gestalt theory of reasoning, arguing that people can solve many problems by carefully and systematically varying elements of “the situation” (i.e., the framing of the problem). Then, ultimately, an insight with the solution will present itself. He writes that “the decisive points in thought-processes, the moments of sudden comprehension, of the “Aha!,” of the new, are always at the same time moments in which such a sudden restructuring of the thought-material takes place, in which something “tips over.”” So you see, thinking boils down to perception. The same Gestalt principles apply, and what really matters, the mental process that creates the percept/insight is itself unconscious. If it were conscious, we would not have an Aha! experience. Framing Duncker’s theory in the language of dual-mind theory, we may say that mind 2 provides different frames for perception, but that the crucial process of creating a percept/insight/judgment/decision within that frame belongs to mind 1. From this point of view, mind 2 does not intervene into the workings of mind 1, but it guides and facilitates. Mind 1 does the creative work of making us see. Afternote. The workings of mind 2 are often refereed to as executive. Perhaps the term managerial is more apt. They don't really do anything.

Duncker, K. (1945). On problem solving. Psychological Monographs, 58(5).

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